Living alone for the first time is an often overlooked but important milestone for many young people. Up until this point, you’ve most likely shared a home or apartment with family members, roommates, or even a significant other. If you went to college, even if you were lucky enough to have a private dorm room, there were still plenty of people on your floor with their doors wide open looking to make new friends. But now you find yourself in a house or apartment all to yourself—no boyfriend or girlfriend, no siblings or parents, and no housemates. Now what?
I moved off campus my sophomore year into an apartment with three friends. Roommates came and went over the next few years, but each semester there was always someone around to share laughs and drinks with once the studying was finished. My roommates weren’t all amazing; some were an absolute nightmare (more about that in another post). But a few became best friends. They felt like family, and we could rely on each other for anything. I couldn’t imagine living without them. For most of my college career, graduation seemed like an impossibly far away concept, more of a dream than impending reality. But soon there was no denying it was time to close that wonderful chapter of my life and embark someplace new.
I received my diploma in December of 2018, and a few months later my lease ended. In a state of disbelief, I packed up my belongings and locked my bedroom door for the last time. I said a tearful goodbye to the girls who had been by my side through thick and thin, swallowing the massive lump in my throat when it occurred to me we’d have no more Taco Tuesdays or Saturday night Netflix binges. I nearly broke down when I said goodbye to my wonderful boyfriend who was kind enough to help me drag an old mattress and boxspring down three flights of stairs to its final resting place in the dumpster. The drive to my dad’s house an hour away was as surreal as it was painful. After college, lots of fresh graduates move back in with their families to save money, but that wouldn’t be the case for me. I would be at my dad’s house for a few days, and then I would board my flight to Japan. It was terrifying going from a familiar place surrounded by the people I knew and loved to stepping into an empty apartment for the first time in a foreign country. And to think my high school self actually thought leaving home for college would be the scariest part of adulthood. Oh, how naive I was back then.
After the adrenaline of moving abroad dissipated, I realized when I returned home from work to my small, second-floor apartment, there was no one there to greet me or ask about my day. Only the quiet hum of the air conditioning unit broke the uncomfortable silence I found myself surrounded by. This was the new normal. Even my cat, Link, would not be there to offer a single meow of comfort. He was living with my father now, probably curled up on my old bed wondering when I’d be home. Or maybe he had already forgotten me.
Among the countless other changes I was experiencing, my new sense of solitude was one of the most difficult ordeals I had to handle. Some days I enjoyed the peace and quiet, but at times I’ll admit it was painfully isolating. However, it is possible to live alone while minimizing loneliness. Here’s how:
- Be kind to yourself while you adjust. Moving is considered one of life’s biggest stressors. If you’re in a new place far away from friends and family, there will be an adjustment period as you acclimate to your new surroundings. Set aside time to call your family or a close friend. Read a book you love or make yourself a hot cup of your favorite tea. You don’t have to unpack everything the first day. Set reasonable goals for establishing your new home front. Start with essentials like arranging payment for rent and other bills. Get your bed and eating utensils, and stock the fridge with your favorite foods (and hopefully something nutritious as well) before you worry about decorating.
- Gradually make your space cozy. Don’t live out of your suitcases for six months. Once you’ve started to settle in, it’s important to make your new house or apartment feel like a home. This means unpacking your belongings, putting up pictures of loved ones, hanging a tapestry, or purchasing plants to put in the window. You might even find a soft rug to make the floor more inviting. Hang some curtains but leave them open as much as you can to let in all that happy, natural light. Sunshine is a good way to boost your mood and energy levels during the day. Your apartment doesn’t have to look like it could be featured on HGTV, but it should feel cozy and reflect what you like. Pick colors and accents you’re drawn to and make your space somewhere you enjoy spending time. Doing this will certainly benefit your state of mind.
- Get involved in the community. To combat the loneliness of living by yourself, it’s important you integrate yourself into the community. Introduce yourself to your neighbors if you have any. Ask to get coffee with the coworker who seems inviting. If you’re in a new city or town, they might be able to give you local recommendations or even offer to show you around. If you find you aren’t clicking with your work colleagues, join a website like Meetup to find like-minded people who share your interests. Strike up a conversation with a friendly face at the bar, join a fitness class at the nearby gym, or download a dating app. You can use these to meet new people, but be sure to make your intentions transparent. Saying that you’re new to the area and only looking to make friends is a good way to break the ice and avoid miscommunication.
- Learn to be ok with being alone and don’t give power to negative thoughts. Maybe in college you always had plans with friends or a study group to attend after class, but now you find you have a lot more free time on your hands and no one to spend it with. This can be great for some, but many people are not comfortable being in their own heads for too long. Time away from others forces us to confront the deeper elements of ourselves such as our fears and anxieties. When no one else is talking, it’s hard to ignore our inner voice. If negative thoughts pop into your head, kindly acknowledge them but don’t encourage them. It’s important to let yourself feel sad or angry in response to your situation. You’ll do yourself more harm than good if you push these negative feelings away with unhealthy coping strategies such as excessive drinking. These are valid human emotions that help us handle the problems in our lives and empathize with others. Unfortunately, being alone for extended periods actually lowered my self esteem. I never knew how much I relied on others for validation until I stopped receiving it on a regular basis. At first, I felt like no one wanted to be around me and that I wasn’t good enough to have friends, but this was not the case. I had to learn to encourage myself. Be your own best friend and remind yourself that your value comes from within, not from others.
- Get to know yourself and set goals. Living alone also presents the perfect opportunity to get to know yourself better. Take advantage of this. Interview yourself. What do you value most in life? What makes you happy? What makes you sad? Where do you want to be in five years? What do you want for the future? These questions may be difficult to answer at first. Try to write down your thoughts in a diary or draw a picture. Once you’ve started answering these questions, you can devise a plan to make your dreams a reality. Do you want to be better at managing money? Do some research and make a budget. Do you want to learn how to cook? Get on Youtube or Pinterest and try out a new recipe. It’s ok if your efforts don’t yield perfect results right away. Praise yourself for trying, and if you enjoyed the experience give it another shot. There’s nothing like working towards a goal to boost your confidence and self-esteem. Plus, achieving smaller goals prepares you to conquer the bigger ones. When you learn to effectively balance your monthly budget, you’ll have more confidence down the road in managing the funds of your future business.
- Keep your new place clean. If you’ve shared common spaces with others, then you’re probably used to taking turns dividing the chores. Now that you’re living alone, the cleaning won’t get done until you do it. If things start to smell funky, you can’t blame your sister for not taking out the trash. One thing I certainly appreciated about living alone was never having to wash anyone else’s dishes. On the flip side, if I was in a rush, I could leave a plate in the sink without feeling guilty. But setting my own cleaning schedule was a double-edged sword. Sure, there was no one to pick a fight with over the moldy leftovers in the fridge, but there was also no one to hold me accountable. If I really wanted to, I could live in a pile of filth and squalor because no one else would know. Fortunately, my personality is somewhere between tidy and messy, so things never get too gross. However, it’s important to set a routine and stick with it. Learn to hold yourself accountable and don’t forget to buy cleaning supplies.
- Get a hobby! If you like soccer, join an intramural soccer team. If you enjoy music, consider signing up for piano or guitar lessons. You can continue doing old activities you used to enjoy or try something new. Don’t be afraid to take a up a cooking class or join a book club. Unfortunately, you might not be able to snowboard on the weekends if you’ve moved from Colorado to Florida. One of my biggest hobbies back home was swing dancing. I couldn’t swing dance in Japan, so I rediscovered my love for hiking instead. I also began taking pictures again and created this blog to write more. On Sundays, I study Japanese with a group of foreigners who live nearby. I’ve found that filling my time with activities I enjoy has helped me feel more well-rounded, happy, and complete as an individual. After long work days when I simply lack the energy to be productive or work toward my goals, I listen to motivational podcasts and take myself on a date. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeing a movie or getting dinner alone. Treat yourself!
- Focus on self-growth and independence. Now that you’re on your own, you’ll have to make sure the bills are paid on time, the refrigerator is stocked, and the place is clean—or at the very least not a radioactive dump. In the past, perhaps your roommates or parents helped you tend to these areas. Now they are your sole responsibility. Keep a planner and write down important due dates. Scheduling things and setting reminders is a good way to stay on task. It may seem daunting at first, but you will eventually get the hang of it. After a few months, you’ll realize how self-sufficient you’ve become. I can’t tell you how satisfying this is, and you’ll really start to see yourself as an independent, functioning adult.
Living alone can be a wonderful opportunity to develop yourself, set goals, and explore your interests. Some loneliness is to be expected, and while it is normal to struggle in the beginning, if you are having tremendous emotional difficulty adjusting to your new circumstances, you may need contact friends and family for support or seek the help of a professional counselor. Environmental stressors like moving and living alone can exacerbate preexisting mental illnesses. This is nothing to be ashamed of, so don’t be afraid to reach out! I informed my family, friends, and partner how I was feeling when times were tough. I also reached out to an online counselor using Betterhelp.com. Their computerized assessment matched me with an amazing licensed social worker qualified to help me manage my emotions and work toward my goals. **I swear my blog is not sponsored by their company, I just genuinely believe you deserve to be happy.**
How do you deal with loneliness? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and thank you for reading!